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Joseph Bradford Lancaster - 1st Mayor Of Tampa

Lancaster Photo

Born: 1790, Kentucky

Died: November 25, 1856, Tampa, Florida 

Term: February 14, 1856 - November 25, 1856 (Died in Office)

Born in Kentucky in 1790, Joseph Bradford Lancaster studied law and became an attorney. He was persuaded to come to Florida in 1922, by his friend and fellow attorney, William Pope Duval, the first Governor of Florida. Lancaster pursued a career in politics, and he served as the Mayor of Jacksonville (1846-1847), Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, and as a Florida Supreme Court Judge (1848-1853). Lancaster and his wife, Annie, moved to Hillsborough County in 1853, with their daughters Laura Louise and Eliza Caroline.

The Village of Tampa had been established in 1849. In 1850, the town’s first census counted a total of 974 residents, which included 533 stationed in the military at Fort Brooke. Tampa was reincorporated as a city on December 15, 1855, by the Florida Legislature, and was empowered to pass ordinances, levy taxes and enforce laws. Two months later, on February 14, 1856, the citizens of Tampa elected Joseph Bradford Lancaster as their first mayor. In addition to his many years of government experience, Lancaster had also served as a captain of volunteers during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), and as a customs collector.

Elected only months after the beginning of the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), Lancaster’s administration dealt almost exclusively with war-related issues. The constant threat of attack produced an influx of settlers seeking refuge in a city which lacked funds to feed, shelter, or care for them. The City’s financial base suffered when the Florida Railroad Company chose to extend the line to Cedar Key instead of Tampa. Mayor Lancaster simultaneously sought financial assistance from the state while contending with the state legislature’s constant demand for recruits for the war. There were also pressing civic matters such as the placement of the Port of Tampa under quarantine due to yellow fever.

In the fall of 1856, Mayor Lancaster became too ill to perform his duties, and City Council President Darwin Austen Branch stepped in as Acting Mayor. Joseph Bradford Lancaster died in Tampa on November 25, 1856.


Sources for this Biographical Sketch:

Covington, Dr. James W. and Wavering, Debbie Lee, "The Mayors of Tampa: A Brief Administrative History," Tampa, FL: University of Tampa, 1987.

Grismer, Karl H., Tampa: A History of the City and the Tampa Bay Region of Florida, St. Petersburg Printing Company, FL, 1950.

Robinson, Ernest L., History of Hillsborough County, Florida: Narrative and Biographical, The Record Company, St. Augustine, FL, 1928.